Video courtesy of Lakewood Police Department
These words are being written on the first day of summer, June 21. I wore a parka yesterday, just like everyone else in Da Region.
But “summer” is just around the corner. Diamonds of “joy” will be filled with youngsters playing games, along with soccer fields, humid basketball gyms, and other athletic events for the young.
These activities are supposed to be fun. Kids getting to learn how to be a part of a team, winning or losing, making new friends on the field, and in the concession stand line. These should be some of the best days of their lives.
Parents, please in all your zeal, don’t ruin it for them.
We learned an awful lesson, again sadly, last weekend in Lakewood, Colorado about how awful we can be to our young. A group of seven-year-olds were playing a baseball game. Instead of “Hey batter, hey batter, swing,” being sung in unison, a group of parents rushed the field and started fighting.
Because some didn’t like the calls of a 13-year-old umpire. He warned both coaches about the foul language being yelled at him and instead of folks calming down and becoming human, they started an awful brawl.
The video on social media shows the horrific scene where one man suffered five broken ribs among other injuries and at least 20 “parents” are being investigated by the police.
How stupid are we?
How insane are we?
How evil are we?
I played Little League baseball in Crown Point back in the 1970s, along with Pups basketball, and a couple snaps of youth football. I loved it. Great memories are still in my noodle from the wins, losses, and life lessons learned.
There were a few dustups here and there, but this was a generation watching the Brady Bunch so the vast majority were pretty chilled about youth sports.
Then, as people started watching “Dead Pool,” “The First Purge,” and anything produced by Quentin Tarantino, I saw an extreme change in behavior by fans at youth sports events. Then as I spent a few years coaching my daughters’ teams, I was shocked by what I saw.
F-Bombs coming out every other sentence by a kids' “dads.” Soul-ripping words about someone else’s child from some kid’s “mom.” Threats of fights in the parking lot where children gather to enjoy testing their skills.
It’s happened at the high school level and as we’ve seen recently, it’s happened at a seven-year-old baseball game in the Rocky Mountains.
Good thing Colorado legalized marijuana, right?
Here is the bottom line, folks. No matter how many curse words you scream at the ball yard, no matter how many cheap shots you throw hoping to hurt someone because their kid wears a different-colored T-shirt than yours, it will have no influence on whether your child makes it to the NFL, NBA or MLB.
These awful incidents will not propel your kid to play Division I sports.
From the Optimist fields in Hammond, to Hidden Lake in Merrillville, to the Crown Point softball diamonds,and all the way to Imagination Glen in Portage this summer should be filled with games, pizza parties, sleepovers, and all that’s good about youth sports.
Your children do not need you acting a fool in public places. Or at home.
I have seen so many kids through the years quit playing sport because of overbearing parents bringing undue stress into their lives over a “game.” It was sad 20 years ago, 10 years ago, and today.
A very wise coach I met many years ago told me something that was gold.
“If it isn’t fun it isn’t worth doing.”
If a child is not having fun they will hate it all eventually. I wonder how many of those boys in Lakewood, Colorado will be playing baseball in two years?
Parents take a chill pill and relax. Let your kids have fun this summer. That is what this is all about.
It was October of 2016. I was at Munster High School covering the boys tennis state tournament. On this day all eyes were on Crown Point’s Bryce Bonin, pounding smashes all day, all over the court, in the singles tournament.
Remarkable, it was.
But my eyes drifted to the south a bit and saw a guy I’d known for many years sitting in a lawn chair. He was enjoying the moment. It was former Merrillville boys basketball coach Jim East.
This snapshot of “a day in the life” perfectly summarizes the life of Coach East. He loved high school athletics. At a higher level he loved his family even more. Bonin was East’s grandson.
East smiled and waved and we chatted for a minute or two. Then, we said good-bye. It was the last time the two of us would talk.
The Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame coached died last weekend at the age of 79. I will never again be able to see a purple suit coat without it conjuring up great memories and a tear.
East’s name and resume belongs in the Who’s Who of Hoosier Hysteria. The native of Selma, Indiana played volleyball at Ball State before he put a whistle in his mouth. He coached at Chester Center, Center, Connersville, Lawrenceburg and Merrillville, where he coached the Pirates since 1980-81.
His record was 653-337 in 43 years as a head coach, with 16 sectional championships, six regionals and the 1995 state runner-up trophy, losing a heartbreaker to Indianapolis Ben Davis. He won 12 Duneland Athletic Conference championships and owns the DAC’s consecutive win streak mark at 25.
These digits all point to No. 1.
Jim East was the best boys basketball coach I ever covered. Period.
That doesn’t mean he was easy to get along with. The first time I met him in the mid 1990s he told me to get a haircut. He didn’t like my Freak Flag flying. He was right. There were times he refused to speak with me He was right a couple times. There were arguments and yelling matches in the coaches office from time to time.
But I never lost respect for East. And I believe that street ran in both directions.
He was old school. He said exactly what he felt. His passion could be seen on frigid Friday nights inside packed gymnasiums. His teams, all of them, played great defense and worked the half-court offense like the ticking of a clock.
East built Merrillville’s program into one of Indiana’s finest. He will be greatly missed.
After a very tough loss in the 2011 sectional at Michigan City, East’s last game, I wrote a couple of lines about how I felt one official did his best to end Merrillville’s night. And he did. In the middle of the night East called me, which didn’t happen that often, to say thanks.
That meant a lot. It still does.
My prayers go out to Jim’s family. His wife of 59 years, Marlene, who was side by side with him through all the ups and downs and games. His daughters Kelly and Kara (Bonin) and all the grandchildren.
And to all the former Pirates who had their lives touched and shaped by East. Let his legacy live on in your daily steps and breath. Such things are eternal.
Region basketball will never be the same. Neither will Hoosier Hysteria. Merrillville High School will never be the same. I hope very soon East is honored by the naming of the gym or the floor after this legendary man.